Thursday, May 1, 2008

Tragedy of Flood family murder-suicide in Co Wexford

No satisfactory explanations for murder-suicide

(This is the text of my article in The Evening Herald on 28th April)

The apparent murder-suicide of the Flood family at Clonroche has one thing in common with most other suicides.

This is that we have no satisfactory explanation as to why it happened and we are unlikely to get one.

When an individual commits suicide, the person's family may spend years seeking an explanation. But even suicide notes usually fail to give a satisfactory reason for such a drastic step.

In the case of murder-suicide, the mystery is even greater. Why would a man who, for some reason, has decided to take his life, bring his family with him? Why - if this is how it happened - did he do it in such a way that his children were left to die in a fire after their parents were dead? (Note: since this article appeared, there is reason to believe that the children were drugged before the fire began).

Gardaí have been unable to find anything at all in the background of the family to explain what happened.

A Garda source is quoted this morning as saying that there must be people who can throw light on the event. It may well be that today or this week we will find out more.

And yet a description of the events that lead up to a murder-suicide does not necessarily constitute a satisfactory explanation for it.

Studies of murder-suicides by researchers suggest, unsurprisingly, that stressful life events are often involved. These can include financial losses and marital discord.

But a great many people suffer financial losses and marital discord without killing themselves or anyone else - and we don't know whether such factors were present in the Flood family.

Depression is also a frequently found factor in murder-suicide, especially where a person kills his or her own children as well. There have been tragedies over the years in which a parent a depressed parent has taken this course of action.

But depression is one of the most common emotional problems and is something which almost all of us have experienced or will experience to an extent at least. Again, it rarely leads to tragedies of this kind.

Something additional is needed and it is thought that psychosis is often the ingredient that can turn a 'normal' depression into a murder-suicide.

Psychosis is a state of mind in which a person loses touch with reality. A person may hallucinate or hear voices telling them to act in a certain way.

Research suggests that more people hear imaginary voices than we think but that they know the voices have no independent reality and ignore them.

In psychosis, however, the person may believe the voices to be real and may obey whatever it is that they are telling him or her to do.

Paranoia, or an extreme and unrealistic level of jealousy, can also be behind murder-suicides insofar as experts have been able to deduce their causes.

Were any of these factors present in the Flood family? We may or may not find out.

Because of the devastation caused by these tragedies and because of their horrific nature, it is important that an attempt is made to establish causes.

This can best be done by a psychological post-mortem as it is called. A psychological post-mortem is carried out by interviewing everybody who might have information about the state of mind of the perpetrator in the period leading up to the event. It is quite separate to a Garda investigation or a physical post-mortem.

It is also of the greatest importance that people touched by this tragedy get psychological help, if they need it, in the future.

The death of the Flood family has left friends and relatives in shock. But when the shock wears off there will be people among them who will never be the same again.

These people need emotional support and may need it for years to come.

That is what is important now.

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